Other veterans of the crisis had come to a chastened and humbled position rather more quickly. I had the opportunity to sit with the key living veterans of
the 1962 crisis -- with former U.S. Defense Secretary Bob McNamara, former Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, Castro himself and others in their
historic first face-to-face meetings in Moscow in 1989 and in Havana in 1992. Most focused on lessons of how to avoid ever again coming to the edge of
nuclear Armageddon. And we were shocked to receive the previously secret uncensored memoirs of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, showing his utter horror
at receiving Castro's doomsday cable. "This is insane," he wrote, "not only is he preparing to die himself, he wants to drag us with him. Only lunatics or
suicides, who themselves want to perish and to destroy the whole world before they die, could do this."
For most at the table, the climax of the legendary "13 days" was a sobering near-death experience, personal and collective. McNamara said that, as he
left the White House on 27 October fifty years ago, "I wondered whether I would live to see another Saturday night." Yet, when we sat with Castro in 1992,
and I asked him about the events of that Saturday, he defended his position, saying that the Cubans were ready for annihilation if the U.S. attacked the
missile sites and that Khrushchev should be the first to fire nuclear weapons.
Was Castro's penitent statement -- made in August 2010, two years after his intestinal surgery -- effectively a deathbed admission? This week we again read
the latest Western press reports of Castro's demise -- that he was in a "neurovegetative state" after suffering a stroke. But official Cuban media
responded with photos and Fidel's protest: "I'm not dead yet." After 47 years of absolute rule, Castro did give up power to his brother Raul. Was it
because Castro is now "an elder statesman" that he made his admission? Was he no longer constrained by his political office and official duties and could
now take a larger, more global viewpoint? Or was it because he could not deny that his physical strength is finally leaving him, making him less cocky?
Let us keep it in perspective. Castro did not say it was not worth killing hundreds. Fidel did not renounce revolution. He just said it was not
worth killing millions.
Castro's revelation offers an opportunity to explore the minds of revolutionaries and the justification they give for mass violence in the name of social
engineering for a new just society. There is nothing more revealing on this topic than the candid words spoken privately by Russian revolutionary Vladimir
Lenin to his friend, the writer Maxim Gorky:
"Our generation has succeeded in doing a job of astounding historical importance. The cruelty of our life, forced upon us by conditions, will be understood
and justified. It will all be understood, all of it!"
...Listening to Beethoven's sonatas in Moscow one evening, Lenin remarked: "I know of nothing better than the 'Appassionata' and could listen to it every
day. What astonishing, superhuman music! It always makes me proud, perhaps naively so, to think that people can work such miracles!"
Wrinkling up his eyes, he smiled rather sadly, adding: "But I can't listen to music very often, it affects my nerves. I want to say sweet, silly things and
pat the heads of people who, living in a filthy hell, can create such beauty. One can't pat anyone on the head nowadays, they might bite your hand off.
They ought to be beaten on the head, beaten mercilessly, although ideally we are against doing any violence to people. Hmm -- what a hellishly difficult
Lenin's unguarded statement stands as perhaps the greatest revelation of the inner thoughts of the political revolutionary, of the kind not found in their
published writings. "...Although ideally we are against doing any violence to people" -- this is perhaps the most terrifying independent clause added to any
sentence in the history of political thought.